Curriculum Reform in 4 UK Nations

A Home International Policy Symposium

Policy, Politics and Curriculum and Assessment Change in Northern Ireland Will the assessment tail continue to wag the curriculum dog?
Carmel Gallagher Ruth Leitch Queen¶s University Belfast

Theoretical frameworks  Curriculum Reform Processes  Assessment Reform Process  Main Messages  Recommendations

Theoretical Framework re: Curriculum Reform Processes 
Evidence informed policy making Harold Lasswell µFounding father of public policy as a field of study¶  Purpose of policy analysis  µnot to produce 'evidence' to drive policy.  Rather a process of public learning in which decision making is opened up and made more democratic

Donald Schon (1972)  in an increasing unstable and uncertain world, there needs to be  less centralised government control  more opportunity to innovate  people and institutions need to be flexible and agile  not bogged down in protocols and bureaucracy that are slow to change.  governments should be concerned less with controlling and managing  more with acting as a facilitator of society¶s learning  µdesigning policy processes and institutions  capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation¶ (Schon 1973: 28 cited in Parsons 2002: 6).

Theoretical Framework re: Curriculum Reform Processes  Evidence-based policy making (EBPM)  David Blunkett speech to ESRC Feb 2000 asking for 
a more rigorous approach to inform government  µwhat works and why  what types of policy initiatives are likely to be most effective¶  favours µoverwhelmingly quantitative approaches¶ that  µcan be µmanaged¶  to inform µoverall strategies¶  to exercise strategic control¶ 

Approach characterised as 
a form of governmental 'control freakeryµ to secure objectives and policy 'targets'
(Stacey, 2002: 50)

Processes informing the development of the Revised NI Curriculum 
Pupil Cohort Study (3,000 pupils over 7 years)  Teacher Monitoring (face to face critical feedback)  Curriculum 21 Conferences  Commissioned research  Literature reviews  Independent advice to government        Phased development involving stakeholders Proposals Widespread consultation Research-informed implementation strategy Support materials Pilot projects Phasing in of requirements

Constraints on Assessment Policy Development 
Performance culture  Assessment data (age 8, 11, 14, 16, 18)  Selective education system  Contentious abolition of 11+  Search for replacement mechanism to assist transfer to post-primary e.g. pupil profile  Failure to achieve consensus  The development of unregulated tests

Literacy and Numeracy Strategies Audit 
Prominence given to Literacy and Numeracy Strategies  VFM audit of £40 million expenditure on Strategies  Hearing before House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC)  Conduct of PAC hearing 
        µpoliticians talking nonsense about educational outcomes¶ Audit report µqualifications¶ ignored Invalid comparisons made and demanded (Glasgow, Liverpool, Belfast) Statistics misinterpreted Lack of awareness of impact of selective systems Lack of understanding of target setting and adjustments No awareness of comparable (worse) performance in England Suspected manipulation of English National Statistics Reprimand by Statistics Office

Impact of PAC and NI Policy 
Continued narrow pre-occupation with Literacy, Numeracy and Assessment  Retention of old levels to assess new curriculum  Retention of voluntary tests at Key Stage 3  Delay in approving new cross-curricular levels  Reluctance to absorb thinking skills levels

Main points 
Incongruence in policies  Backwash effect of narrow assessment pressures on curriculum  Mixed messages to schools  Tensions / pressures on teachers and schools  Limitations and fallibility of narrow assessment statistics & standards  Lack of understanding / misinterpretation of statistics and oversimplistic reporting by media  The effect on parental and public perceptions µSociety sees results as the major goal of schooling rather than a useful but fallible indicator of achievement¶ (Gipp 1990: 27).


Effort and expense expended in µpolicing¶ poor quality assessment  Focus resources on professional development for 
quality curriculum planning  quality assessment  development of higher order thinking

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